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A Campaign Setting and Conversion book worth the pricetag and more!

5/5

I'm reviewing the PDF, as I have not been able to purchase the physical book yet.

This book is 195 pages, with approximately 3 pages of cover and licensing. There's a lot of content here. The opening of the primary PDF is the Player's guide-- the first 55 pages are the same from what I can tell. That's ok, in my opinion, because as the GM, I'm going to need that information, too. However, if you're a GM who's only ever going to work on electronic books, you can save yourself $7, and just pick the primary PDF.

The remaining 140-odd pages are packed with 3/4 plot arcs and storylines utilizing the different factions, locales and npcs. While it doesn't get too gritty, it definitely sets the stage for games to go with a post-apoc vibe that's grimy, Mad Max rough, or swing Gamma-World-Paranoia softer. That's a range I can appreciate. There are relationships, motivations, lust, greed, and delicious existential dilemmas.

It's a sandbox loaded with buried treasure, waiting for the party to stumble upon the the first clues. The art is solid, b&w and appropriate, while the maps are hex-crawl-tastic, and understandably so, given the scarcity theme which runs like a constant, lightly fallout-tainted wind from the west. I wish they marked a few more larger towns near particular settlements for potential in-game scavenging sites, but given that Google Maps is part of your supplement shelf, I can forgive the omission.

The bestiary covers everything you'll hit in the sandbox, giant bugs, drones, as well as anything else. The art for entries which get it is black and white, too, but not everything receives a treatment-- again, given the basis and the amount of material here, I'm ok with that, as it keeps it scary while you play, leaving some to the imagination.

There are a few editing snafus (I saw a couple of "improtant" ones) but nothing that's going to hinder your enjoyment of the text. Otherwise, it's a fine, two-column layout with a light, print-friendly trade dress.

Finally, the book closes out with some appendices, covering high-tech traps, some wandering monster tables, generic minion stats, psionics, treasure tables-- excuse me, rare item tables, and then inspirational material followed by some calendar pages marking a few seminal events. It even has an index!

Really, everything you need to make this work (within reason) is waiting here for you, and when it's not, it's clearly indicated where you need to find it. Nothing listed beyond the text struck me as expensive or excessive, but then I own almost everything from Kobold Press and I signed on to the Ultimate Psionics KS. Still, this seems like $16 very well spent. I'd completely give it 5 stars and say that it gets me wanting to run the campaign set here. Shouldn't that be the goal? I'd say, "yes" and tell you there's a home run waiting for you-- just take the plunge.

-Ben.


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The horrible future you've so desperately wanted is here!

5/5

Weighing in at 55 pages, this has about 52 pages of content, offering up setting and rules adjustments for a post-apocalyptic world of the Midwest. The artwork is B&W, with a great Malcolm McClinton cover that nearly sells the book by itself. Editing and layout is decent; I think I only really saw one typo and nothing which would impede my understanding of the text.

Matthew Hanson provides a great adjustment to your Pathfinder game, giving you what you need to run a post-apoc campaign, with shout-outs to Kobold Press' spellless ranger and Dreamscarred's psionics rules. There are mutants, ape-men, and even ultra-rare synthetics.

He has rules for radiation, some modern equipment, and a great subsystem for mutations which mirrors the trait/drawback system. Some of these look powerful, or offer the opportunity for powerful combinations, but I think I'd want to see how they operate in play before I judge, because they look pretty cool.

Broken Earth gives us three different factions, each at a different level of recovery or survival and with different goals. He suggests several other groups which exist, but doesn't expand upon them in too much detail. One notable omission is a regional map-- sure, I could use Google maps or an atlas, but I'd love to have some ideas of each faction's range, of their influence, where friction points might be, and were points of interest might exist. It's a quibble, though, and one I can easily remedy.

This is also missing a healthy crop of story seeds or suggested arcs. However, Hanson does show how the community building rules from Ultimate Campaign can be adjusted to work, and suggests the core of a game might be the rebuilding, growth and survival of the characters' home, but he doesn't offer any storylines to pursue it. Honestly, though, I'm okay with that. There are enough ideas in the text to jumpstart any GM's brain, and I've got a half dozen just from reading it. Any GM looking for this material has stories in mind anyway, so I don't consider it a weakness.

One thing I appreciated was Hanson's light treatment of the apocalypse. Yes, there was a terrible nuclear exchange, but he doesn't say why, or if it was secondary to something else, like a zombie plague, or a comet impact, or something else, leaving it as an exercise for the GM. I think that's great, because it gives the GM room to personalize the world and add in the twist they want.

Overall, I'd give this 4.5 stars, but I'm bumping it to 5 because it scratches an itch that people have wanted for a while. And I think that this, combined with this summer's Tech Guide are going to make for some absolutely epic campaigns. Are you tired of waiting for other Pathfinder takes on the post-apocalyptic world? Want to plunge into a quasi-modern wasteland with your Pathfinder group? You want this book, it's going to be the best $6.99 you've spent in a long time.

(Side note, I'm definitely picking up the hardcover when it's available!)

EDIT! I realized this is the player's guide! In which case, everything I said is great, it makes sense why the plot points or the map aren't here, and really makes me consider picking up the PDF of the setting. While I was initially offput by the $15.99 price tag, now, I'm about to go get it.


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There's (Mostly Realized) Potential Here, Definitely Worth the Price!

4/5

This is a collection of 20 Ghoulish variants, turning a progression of monsters into ghoul-templated monsters. Given my love of ghouls (I wrote the Darakhul supplement for Kobold Press, helped convert the Imperial Gazetteer to PFRPG, and was a playtester/contributor to Empire of the Ghouls) I had to review this one, especially since I reviewed Minotaur Games' ghoul piece.

The art is low-key, a bit rough, but it's something, and really, while I know people have had their expectations put up there by various products, I'm ok with the art style. We get descriptive images for each monster, which is what I'd expect for this sort of work, at the very least. Some pieces are better than others, but we're buying this for the monsters, not as Pickman's sketchbook.

It has an on-going narrative, woven through each monster's entry, which is ok, but pretty much represents the stock trope of "the arrogant necromancer who recognizes the power and beauty of undeath as he grows in capability." Take it or leave it, but it's a hidden story arc laid out for a GM willing to apply it to his game.

The document is lacking several important aspects:

1. There's no template given, allowing me to make my own ghoulish monsters. If I want ghoulish hobgoblins, I have to guess at what it takes. This is pretty frustrating. Can I do it? Probably, I don't think it looks hard but it's a task I'll have to sit down and do, and I'm betting Rocks Fall has already done it.

EDIT: The current revision has this template and a spell-- they're just not listed in the table of contents.

2. The descriptive text mentions a spell to create these creatures. No such spell is provided in the manuscript. This is also pretty frustrating.

EDIT: This is at the end, with the template. It's also slipped past the table of contents. Think of it like a surprise treat for finishing the text. ;)

3. Ghouls are social undead. They form packs, they interact with society, they are intelligent and free-willed. There is nothing discussing what ghoulish versions of the base creature's society become upon transformation. Does it really change the gnoll's or dire wolf's society much? Probably not, but more sociable hill giants or owlbears might be interesting. Otherwise, we just get monsters with a channeling weakness and a paralytic attack.

EDIT: This point remains. Each monster is considered as a lone, solitary creature, with little (if any) social consideration.

4. This one's less a ding, so much as a "wow, that would have been nice," kind of comment. After reading through 20 of these monsters and the associated text, I wanted a stat block for the Necromancer. Heck, I would have *loved* three versions to choose from, but I don't want to play Monday-morning-Designer. With that much about the character in the text, leaving the Necromancer completely undefined was a bummer. :) You made me want that bit of content, why not offer it?

Overall, this is a great collection of bad guys you can throw at your party across a wide variety of levels and encounters. It has a hidden foe you could build to suit your own tastes. It has printer friendly options to go with the parchment background versions (although I wonder how the black name-bars will print with red text on some printers). It has some low-key art of each monster. Is it missing a few aspects that would make it shine? Yes. However, at $2.5, this is an acceptable purchase. If I didn't love ghouls, I probably would have passed, but if I was running an undead-centric game, and wanted to keep things fresh? This would be printed out and kept in the binder.

With the missing material I mentioned addressed? This would easily be a 4-star purchase. The lack of the spell and template are really what hurts this most.

EDIT: With the inclusion of this material, I'm content with considering this a solid 4 star purchase. The price for the material's good, and this is something you'd be able to get utility from for an extended period, especially with the inclusion of the spell and template.

-Ben.


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Well worth the cup of coffee.

5/5

This gem of supplemental rules dives right into the subject matter-- there's no bits of fiction or setting material, which is a nice touch and leaves campaign integration as an exercise for the reader.

The content is almost entirely for the GM, with the feats, spells, and items geared for giving ghouls a wider role in the game. Certainly, there are those necromancers and clerics who will want the new spells for player use, and I thought all of them were solid.

I especially liked the spellcasting implements and the hazards, as both immediately inspired ideas for their usage. The variant ghouls had readily apparent hooks available through the new spells and items to give them added roles within a game.

The art is low key, and entertaining, but the maze-as-trade-dress is, frankly, inspired. Editing and layout are straightforward, leaving the focus where it should be-- on the material. For the price, you can't go wrong; this is a welcome jolt to make your players sit up and pay attention to their foes when they may have thought they could sleepwalk through an encounter. If you're wondering about picking this up, stop. Go ahead and get it, you won't be disappointed.


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A simple premise, and that's where the opportunity lies...

4/5

This is a pretty simple walk through a poorly lit waterpark to punch things in the face, however...

With the simple premise, this allows the GM to really get into the NPCs, creating good RP moments. With the complexity removed, you can really get into the characters, the environment, the descriptions.

Not every adventure needs to be _The Sting_ or _Inception_, and this kind of story has its place. For this adventure to shine, the GM needs to dive in and really give the monsters personality.

On a side note, it was nice to see characters being given a mission not because they happened to be the least worst mirror-fogging mouthbreathers available to throw at an issue.


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A Walk through Facepunch Forest

3/5

The redeeming aspect of this adventure is the freedom to roleplay because the plot is so otherwise unencumbered. If your GM doesn't get into the roles (although some of the dialogue is fantastic, and begs an active portrayal) and your group doesn't ham it up, you're going to have a suboptimal time.

For most tables, I think the combats are going to need the juice. This was pretty soft at 3-4. Combats didn't do a lot to incorporate dynamic terrain into the design, and left me looking for ways to increase the fun with what limited tools were at my disposal. Still, there's at least one great opportunity for some cinematic heroics, if the players and the GM are willing to take the chance.

-Ben.


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wha?

1/5

Encounters of questionable tactics, excessive Aroden trivia, cartography issues, railroad entry, the trapdoor to beyond-the-scope-of-certain-doom. I give it one star because I am forced. Do not stare at the plot too hard, or you'll just go mad. There's potential, but the moments of fridge logic and special situational rules smoothed my cortex and left me sobbing at the vending machine, crying "Why Hyrum? Why?"


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A niche within a niche

4/5

I'd written my full review over here. Check it out for something more indepth than the few sentences you get here.

-Ben.


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Worth an eye and a week on the World Tree!

5/5

With gorgeous cover art by Aaron Miller and 114 pages of frosty goodness, The Northlands is Open Design's response to a fan call for a Sunken Empires sequel. Written by Dan Voyce (Tales of Zobeck, Halls of the Mountain King, Tales of the Old Margreve) and the project patrons, this is a book for slinging dice in the bleak frozen wastes. The focus is heavily Viking, with aspects of Clark Ashton Smith's Hyperborea and good dose of Norse Jotunheim. The art reflects the grim mood, relying heavily on Rackham's woodcut themes of the Viking age, but Rick Hershey's monster illustrations are as richly detailed as any greedy dwarven treasure vault and Jonathan Roberts' maps are a pair of bright gems in an otherwise black and white book.

This is everything you need to run a game in the icy tundra and the map for good measure—if you don't mind borrowing Midgard's. Traditional Viking concepts of honor, feasting, government, storytelling, drinking games of chance and even wergild, or blood-price, are all discussed. This last one is useful for a GM because it offers a way to pursue vendettas or demand revenge without necessarily resorting to further bloodshed and putting consequences to characters' usual habits of violence. There are excuses, I mean story seeds, for launching raids, and a full pantheon of grim deities certain to ignore the infrequent prayers of your reavers—detailed with domains, chosen weapons, and a very interesting section on "What (Deity) Demands," which is a great way for keeping in the mood. And that's just Chapter One.

The next chapter details the setting of Midgard, reviewing the geography, the factions and racial relations, a bit of history, and the notable locations. There are quite a few of these, each offered up with a suggested story seed. The area here is big, and the details are enough to inspire adventures without constraining a GM to the locations. This section left me thirsting for more. After fifteen pages covering the region, I wanted in-depth and focused treatments of places like "the Bleak Expanse," or "Amaroth, the Sleeping Kingdom," and I call that a good thing.

Chapter Three is for the players, giving fantastic race options for some human tribes, Hyperboreans, reaver Dwarves, and Trollkin. These last three come with traits for specializing the characters a little further, with names invoking the region's reputation like "Fey Vendetta," "Fireheart," or "Rune Mastery." Classes get an environmental spin, as well, with alternate variants for nine of the core and expanded options from the APG. Bards get a lot of love here, and sorcerers get two new bloodlines—giant and hyperborean (which I particularly liked). While Northlands also has the usual bevy of combat feats, it offers up a very novel option of "Acclaim Feats," based on a character's renown in the community. The "Huginn's Horde" feat is particularly cool for casters, giving them a murder of crows--an image I find really caster-appropriate to work into play. The options for alternate barter/currency are perfect, too, because you can see adventurers and players really getting into the setting when their hordes include picture shields, bundles of otterskins, and a pair of adamantine torcs forged by reaver dwarves, not to mention just a few of the wondrous items or spells. This is a setting with personality, and it's as bright and entertaining as the Northern Lights.

The text continues on, just as dense as its Sunken cousin, with chase options, hazards, hero point variants, environmental rules and haunts. The bestiary is loaded with foes—while there are valkyries to collect the slain, there are jotuns and nightgarms, really a whole host of bad guys you can throw at your players for any level. Northlands continues the tradition set by Sunken Empires and Tales of the Old Margreve; this book is going to leave you itching to use the material, no matter what campaign world you use. There's something on nearly every page that inspires a story or suggests an adventure. You're going to hope your characters have got plenty of thread left on the skein of the Norns once you dig into this, because there's just too much glorious fun to be had. Definitely worth the gold rings to pick up, I give it 5 stars!

EDIT: I was not a patron for this project, but did receive a review copy.


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No tricks! All treats!

5/5

Kobold Quarterly 15 arrived in my hot little hand yesterday, and I have to say, this issue is solid.

The cover—Wow. Maybe its being a dad. No, this is just an absolutely gorgeous piece by William O’Connor. I loved his piece on KQ#7, and this one comes in a very close second. The swaddling cloth alone is a beautiful detail and the text does an excellent job of staying out of the way of the image—which has been a complaint of mine in the past.

For those still paying attention to the composition of articles to editions, let’s just get this out of the way, shall we? This issue has:

6 Edition Neutral articles.
6 Fourth Edition articles.
6 Pathfinder RPG articles.

Two years into this and the coverage still seems pretty balanced, which also means folks are submitting material for all of those options since KQ is driven on submissions.

So what looks ripe for pillaging and dumping across your game table like so much loot?

The obvious two choices for Pathfinder are the Druid article and the Children of the Wood article. These are great options for a GM and a player, and that’s why I’ve selected them. The Bestial Druid is shapeshifting done right. The Godai is a good update for a shugenja or a wu-jen, at least in terms of flavor. And the Purist is a fairly cool look at a cross between a druid and a cleric, and has me jonesing even more Zombapocalypse gaming. The opening for the Children of the Wood article leans a bit on the Open Design world of Midgard, referencing the recent project and some of the Zobeck canon pantheon, but that’s all cast aside for the uninitiated as we dig into the meat of the article. Offering up a Bloodline and its progression (Blood of the Green), two domains with powers (Forest and Harvest), and a school of Magic with three spells (Nature), this also has some great material which would make for interesting characters, and that’s what every table wants.

The ant, pit trap, and weapons articles are what they claim—and well written, but just not the sexy you get from the other two I mentioned. They’ve got more of a GM vibe, but I can certainly see rangers asking for giant ant animal companions and warriors of all stripes asking to use the weapons, but don’t they ooze the awesome you get from the first two articles I referenced. Honorable mention goes to the tactical maneuvers. I love these kinds of cooperative options, but I always worry about taking them unless I can discuss character generation with everyone at once.

For 4th Edition, the mounted combat and critical hit articles make this issue worth the price of entry. The art for the mounted material reminded me of Boudicca charging through Roman Legionnaires, and the sheer variety of gear, feats, powers, and a trio of mounts will leave you nodding and quietly mouthing, “Oh yes.” Not to be outdone, Quinn Murphy (of At-Will blog fame) offers up a great concept of expanded criticals which present specialized effects for scenes. This isn’t just hitting for full damage plus a die roll and some fluff. This is climbing all over the huge monster in Legolas-fashion, thunking away as you spider across it. This is shifting the battlefield or shifting multiple enemies trying to swarm you. It’s very interesting stuff, and that’s why it beats out its close competitor—the skill stances. These feed my desire to see combat incorporate the environment with more personalized actions through the skill tree. Set up as replacement utility powers, these clinch it for me on the 4E side of the house. The trap rigs or the whack in a box are ok, but they really only play to one or two classes or the GM, and the rest is goodies for everyone.

Everyone? Yes.

Every. One.

The neutral material is good for sweetening the pot and has some exciting discoveries hiding within its folds—like the sidescrolling dungeon concept or Monte Cook’s article on simulating reality. I like that the magazine is willing to find new ideas and ask, “What do you think, will it work?”

Overall, I have to give this issue top marks. The art is gorgeous. The bulk of the articles seem to provide a little something for GM and player alike. The editing is consistent and so good it simply melts into the background. And the production values are deliciously indulgent with a nice, heavy stock cover and glossy internal pages that make you want to just pick up the magazine and admire it. This is a Halloween treat you’ll be consuming for weeks to come.


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A rocking social sandbox for your Paragons

5/5

Courts of the Shadow Fey is a low to mid-paragon adventure (12-15) set initially in the Free City of Zobeck and later in the Realm of Shadow in the Moonlit King’s lands, this is a raucous sandbox adventure with a decidedly social bent that becomes more evident as the adventure goes on.

The cover is a very cool piece by Stephanie Law, done in a style different from most 4E material out there, setting the tone that this adventure is not what you would usually expect. This project was actually pitched twice before to patrons of Open Design, although the fact that it won this time around is fantastic for everyone, because it’s one of the first in the current wave of Open Design projects to be offered for public consumption upon completion.

Split into four acts, events in the first half build from the unexpected arrival of the Shadow Fey and their occupation of the city to the adventurers’ trip across the planes into the apparently unoccupied Royal Halls. The third and fourth acts ratchet up the tension as the characters become embroiled in the Fey politics and social competition, attempting to garner status and position within a court that more than likely considers them garish barbarians who add a fleeting exotic spice to their immortal existence. Finally, the source of the faerie invasion is revealed, and the characters are presented with the option of lifting it—perhaps at the cost of their own sanity or lives.

With easily 40 outlined and detailed encounters packed into 100 pages, Courts of the Shadow Fey is dense, offering an interesting chase encounter, at least a dozen skill challenges, a dueling mechanic and a social advancement mechanic that is sure to have the most bloodthirsty player looking at nonviolent encounters with new eyes. And in true Open Design form, the table of contents shows this adventure saw serious playtesting and review. Those looking for the delve format common in WotC products won’t find it, though, as the project chose to go with a flowing design found more often in adventures of earlier editions

The art is primarily black and white, but well done, offering a look at the various monsters and NPCs that occupy the adventure. The maps are also black and white, which is slightly disappointing for anyone who either runs adventures on a virtual tabletop or likes to print out the maps for table top use. In particular, I wish the Firebird chase map was presented in a larger, color format—if only because this is a tougher map to draw by hand and because it has so much interesting detail. One possible option for improvement might be to offer a separate map pack with the cartography presented in beautiful color—especially given the quality we’ve seen from Sean Macdonald in the past. However, even in black and white, the maps are nicely detailed and clearly note monster positions to help speed encounter preparation.

Overall, Courts of the Shadow Fey is a fantastic gateway adventure—it offers a great taste of self-contained urban, social, and planar excitement in a sandbox package that might shift the tenor of a game or provide a welcome change of pace. It presents a good mixture of roleplaying, investigation and combat that you would expect from a seasoned veteran of design like Wolfgang Baur and does so without being heavy handed. The sandbox format offers plenty of hooks while still ensuring the gamemaster has the tools to prod stalled parties back into the action. If you’re looking for an adventure that will keep your players engaged and offer a rich playground packed with many, many sessions of entertainment, you don’t need to look further than Courts of the Shadow Fey!

(Point to note: I was a senior patron and playtester. I contributed one skill challenge for this project, but did not participate much beyond development of the first act due to other commitments. I have reviewed the pdf version of this adventure. The print version was not yet available at the time of this review, but could be preordered.)


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The start of a great tradition

5/5

In what’s becoming a welcome annual tradition, the folks at Kobold Quarterly bring you the Gencon issue-- #14 is bigger and more jam packed full of good stuff than any issue before it. The magazine rolls in as a full centurion, perfect bound with a great Nicole Cardiff painted cover that’s a little heavier weight paper than the 100 inside pages. The table of contest offers a buffet of twenty-some articles, and depending on which side of the edition fence you stand, you’ll either love or grumble a little at the slight Pathfinder focus. For those keeping score, it’s 5 4E articles, 8 Pathfinder articles, and 9 system-neutral or alternate system articles with a smattering of others.

And four years into this, you can be sure the selection is pretty fantastic all around. KQ has been award winning shop from the start, and this issue doesn’t buck that trend. What articles stood out in this offering? With so many to choose from, it’s tough to pick just a few, but these alone make the issue worthwhile:

“The Ecology of the Tengu” rocked the house, especially when combined with the four days of bonus material provided on the Kobold Quarterly website. Did you want Tengu culture? There. Maybe Tengu variants? Got it. How about ways to integrate Tengu into Golarion or the Open Design world of Midgard? Yeah, it’s in there. The Tengu article is just shy of a full supplement, and that’s great, no matter what you’re playing.

Next, the article on Skill Battles offers a very interesting and cool method for expanding your encounter variety. Intended for 4E but conceptually applicable to any edition, Hanson’s option looks at procedural and dramatic contests, giving characters an abstracted alternative to the usual fare of encounter, dailies and at-wills. It strives to create a hybrid of traditional battles and the reskinned idea of complex skill checks that are skill challenges and succeeds—presenting something a bit off center which builds on established 4E mechanics but pushes the game’s boundaries.

Michael Furlanetto continues to spin up engaging ideas for 4E, and his article on Hoard Magic doesn’t disappoint. Perhaps builing on the idea of magic item sets and detailing how the collected wealth of a great dragon can take up an arcane power of its own, he shows that there’s not only room for unusual and nontraditional magic in 4E, but the system does it very well. This is one idea I’m scooping up for later on just for the pure cool factor.

Finally, the article I thought better than the paladin feats, the magic perfumes, the alternate codes of honor, or the middle-class magic items—which were all rich grist for a GM’s creative mill—was Jeff Tidball’s article on Moral Choices That Matter. He talks first about crafting genuine ethical dilemmas that evoke emotion and push characters into making hard choices, and then goes on to discuss how to make consequences with depth and importance. It’s not a long article, but laser precise and packed with enough roleplaying explosive to change your game’s landscape. You can bet this is one piece I’ll be copying and putting into my design binder.

And while these four stars shine brightest, the whole of the issue continues to build on the reputation of what we’ve come to expect from Kobold Quarterly—a well edited and gorgeously produced magazine that promises to deliver an envelope full of awesome with each season. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—you’ll find KQ is worth every penny. Now if we could just get those kobolds to go bi-monthly!


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Your Incantation Toolkit in 9 little pages

5/5

Incantations in Theory and Practice is a very dense product for one weighing in at a modest nine pages-- laid out in a landscape format great for onscreen reading. Two of the nine are filled with a cover image, the necessary legalese, and the OGL. The lone piece of artwork is James Keegan's handiwork, a cool image of an aborigine-like elf and some spirits. Enjoy it, because once you flip that first page and start digging in, this PDF is solid.

The authors do a great job of creating a document that covers all the details you'd need to craft incantations of your own, discussing the mechanics, the modifiers, the checks and the all important backlash. Sidebars discuss creation considerations and the fact that you can use incantations to simulate a number of different effects-- from alchemical or mechanical devices, holistic practices, to inspirational speeches or songs. The flexibility allows for easy incorporation into high or low fantasy or magic campaigns, increasing the incantations' utility.

This document is everything you'll need to make incantations a part of your game, and that's its greatest strength. While the previous offering from Zombie Sky Press gave you a generous helping of incantations-- and don't be fooled, there are three more full incantations in this PDF-- this file is your proverbial blueprint. It shows you how to build incantations with baseline skill DCs for creating effects equivalent to spells from different schools of magic. And while most incantations are meant to emulate high level spells, the authors also provide you the considerations for lesser effects, and effects that might target hostile or summoned creatures, requiring opposed skill checks.

Think of this product as the nine pages of mechanics and examples that should have made it into your core rulebook in order to really do incantations right. While ZSP might have given you a really big fish with Incantations from the Other Side: Spirit Magic, Theory & Practice is the only lesson you'll need to go fishing all by yourself.


Fantastic! Rituals with a genuine price that really drive cool stories!

5/5

Rituals from the Other Side: Spirit magic is a great subsystem for adding theurgy-- or the magic of summoning spirits in order to compel or barter with them to cast magic for the summoner-- to your game. This book could be easily incorporated into a standard or high fantasy 4E game as an alternative or indigenous magic option. (Incantations from the Other Side: Spirit Magic is the Pathfinder version of this book.)

The book-- and I refer to one book, because while the mechanics of each version are appropriate to the system, the flavor and descriptive text is largely identical. The landscape layout is great for online reading, the intended format for this product. It helps with the flow of the material and lends itself well to fullscreen mode. The art is a combination of old black and white, strange diagrams, and solid color pieces. With the exception of one large, blocky symbol, they all flowed quite well, adding to the theme and mood of the material. There's even a short index, which seems to be a rarity in shorter supplements lately. This one's sorted by diseases, spell s, groups, and spirits-- a very intuitive manner.

After a short introduction to spirit magic, the voudou section is the first mechanical system presented. This is a great starting point, because these are the most friendly, most social magic. presented as a possible pseudo-religion or cult addition. There's a strong performance aspect which has the added benefit of giving a bit more punch to bardic casters or socially oriented villains who often require a sorcerous secondary. This portion also introduces us to both the costs for simply summoning the spirits (a possible adventure in itself) and for failing to summon them *well enough.* For added flavor, there are two varieties of spirits to choose from, one decidedly more dangerous and a bit more powerful than the other.

The nature spirits constitute the second section. Drawn heavily from slavic and russian mythology, this chapter provides the classic fairy tale source for those groups looking to commune with nature or seek "the wisdom of the land." There are options for establishing a tribal totemic hero or unleashing a furious spirit of destruction against an encroaching horde. These spirits have less of a "performance" aspect and more of a "beseeching" tone. Don't be fooled, though. These spirits still demand a price from their summoners, but there are ways to soften the blow.

Finally, there are the spirits from beyond-- the madness-inducing inscrutable beings capable of granting fantastic powers and knowledge. This part of the book is a great way to incorporate those Lovecraftian cults we all love to emulate in games. The methods used to invoke the presence of these strange creatures are great and full of flavor, presenting a fitting third option for this supplement. Clinton Boomer's handiwork is quite evident, in the vivid descriptions and outstandingly appropriate names.

Overall, I think this book is a great purchase. It has material that players will be tempted to use (if given access), exotic and unusual magic to spice up settings and stories, and great magic that works great for villains or heroes without some kind of alignment bias. Even better than that, this material is functional in worlds where magic should be nonexistant or very weak-- because the characters are never responsible for the effects, all the magical power comes from the summoned spirits. You want to put a little lost magic in into your 4E the world while working within the established guidelines? This book provides a great way to do so and keep your setting in balance.

Great art, good material and mechanics, interesting flavor, and a professional implementation earn Rituals/Incantations a 5-star rating! You'll be glad you picked this up!


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Wow! Magic independent of anything else in your world and chock full of flavor!

5/5

Incantations from the Other Side: Spirit magic is a great subsystem for adding theurgy-- or the magic of summoning spirits in order to compel or barter with them to cast magic for the summoner-- to your game. This book could be slipped into a d20/Pathfinder modern or grim and gritty game, providing a magic option or easily incorporated into a standard or high fantasy game as an alternative or indigenous magic option. (Rituals from the Other Side is the 4E version of this book.)

The book-- and I refer to one book, because while the mechanics of each version are appropriate to the system, the flavor and descriptive text is largely identical. The landscape layout is great for online reading, the intended format for this product. It helps with the flow of the material and lends itself well to fullscreen mode. The art is a combination of old black and white, strange diagrams, and solid color pieces. With the exception of one large, blocky symbol, they all flowed quite well, adding to the theme and mood of the material. There's even a short index, which seems to be a rarity in shorter supplements lately. This one's sorted by diseases, spell s, groups, and spirits-- a very intuitive manner.

After a short introduction to spirit magic, the voudou section is the first mechanical system presented. This is a great starting point, because these are the most friendly, most social magic. presented as a possible pseudo-religion or cult addition. There's a strong performance aspect which has the added benefit of giving a bit more punch to bardic casters or socially oriented villains who often require a sorcerous secondary. This portion also introduces us to both the costs for simply summoning the spirits (a possible adventure in itself) and for failing to summon them *well enough.* For added flavor, there are two varieties of spirits to choose from, one decidedly more dangerous and a bit more powerful than the other.

The nature spirits constitute the second section. Drawn heavily from slavic and russian mythology, this chapter provides the classic fairy tale source for those groups looking to commune with nature or seek "the wisdom of the land." There are options for establishing a tribal totemic hero or unleashing a furious spirit of destruction against an encroaching horde. These spirits have less of a "performance" aspect and more of a "beseeching" tone. Don't be fooled, though. These spirits still demand a price from their summoners, but there are ways to soften the blow.

Finally, there are the spirits from beyond-- the madness-inducing inscrutable beings capable of granting fantastic powers and knowledge. This part of the book is a great way to incorporate those Lovecraftian cults we all love to emulate in games. The methods used to invoke the presence of these strange creatures are great and full of flavor, presenting a fitting third option for this supplement. Clinton Boomer's handiwork is quite evident, in the vivid descriptions and outstandingly appropriate names.

Overall, I think this book is a great purchase. It has material that players will be tempted to use (if given access), exotic and unusual magic to spice up settings and stories, and great magic that works great for villains or heroes without some kind of alignment bias. Even better than that, this material is functional in worlds where magic should be nonexistant or very weak-- because the characters are never responsible for the effects, all the magical power comes from the summoned spirits. You want to put a little lost magic in a d20 Modern or Future game without unbalancing the world or adding a whole set of mechanics? This book provides a great way to do so and keep your setting in balance.

Great art, good material and mechanics, interesting flavor, and a professional implementation earn Rituals/Incantations a 5-star rating! You'll be glad you picked this up!


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Guns & Elder Gods, Destinies & Love, Gnomes & Shoggoths-- what's not to love?

5/5

Hellllooooo KQ#13-- let me say, you're all grown up sexy. This starts year four for Kobold Quarterly, and the cover is something gorgeous-- a pair of tastefully shaded dryads in a jade tone, surrounded by usual set of forest suspects. I found the phrase, "the Switzerland of the Edition Wars" especially apt, but I digress. For this review, I'm looking at the PDF issue, not the print.

After a trio of full page ads (which I liked, honestly. It gives the magazine more of an old Dragon feel), we get the Table of Contents. The article selection only gives a hint as to the editions of the material, so folks looking for those easy to identify icons with the titles are going to have to dig deeper into the magazine, because while they are handily at the upper left corner of each piece. Let me save you the math, though:

6 for Pathfinder
5 for 4E
1 for Dragon Age
1 system neutral article on the Zobeck Campaign setting of Open Design
2 Game Design
1 Editorial
1 Interview with Chris Pramas
1 Set of Fiction Book Reviews
A pair of new comics from Stan!

Which gives a fairly equal distribution of material-- though, to be fair, the KQ staff has always said they publish what they're provided. I'm holding out hope for an Ars Magica article.

Regardless of your side on the current detente, there is a truckload of good stuff in here. Two nice maps, a wad of items for 4E or Pathfinder and good advice on romance stories make for some very interesting material.

Although, it's fair to say that this helping might not be for everyone. Those who don't like guns in their sword and sorcery will find the arquebusier article a misfire. Those not looking for a horror tinge to their 4E high fantasy won't need a sanity check for Aeryn Rudel's Lovecraftian Gods. I found the shoggoth ecology great and full of options for foiling the player at your table who memorized everything down to table 14-3, wagon wheel options. In my opinion, though, the gem of the issue is the "Guide to Sex and Romantic Subplots in Fantasy Adventure Gaming." Mario Podeschi is no stranger to KQ, and if this article is any indication, we'll be seeing a lot more. He talks about hooks, shallow PCs and NPCs, episodic appearances, the sticky subject of intercourse even a primer on what to do when the table is divided on the matter of romance and PCs-- everything a GM could ask for when incorporating this aspect into a game.

Overall, I have to say that Kobold Quarterly continues to fulfill its destiny as the spiritual successor of Dragon. The art is great, the production is very professional and the editing is solid. They're also listening to feedback and incorporating what they can-- as evidenced by the article-edition icons. They even allow you to download your PDFs straight from the site if you've somehow misplaced your copy. If you haven't picked up an issue, this is a fantastic place to start.

Disclaimer: This PDF issue was provided for review purposes, though I am a subscriber and occasional contributer to KQ/Open Design.


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I'd go 4.5, but that's not an option!

4/5

This product was provided for review purposes-- though I was a patron, I had little input on this project, other than doing some magic item review on about a half dozen items. This was the first time I truly saw the material.

The book is broken into 6 chapters:

Lost Cities of Myth and Legend
Pelagic Characters
Aquatic Equipment and Lost Tech
Spells and Magic Items
The Sunken Environment
Creatures of the Deep

The intro is done by Zeb Cook, giving us the old school origins of the Aboleth. He was one of my favorites (Go "Earthshaker!") and how can you not enjoy this sort of look into the murky past of a monster? Cook is engaging and does a great job of firing me up to continue.

The artwork and cartography is great. Hugo Solis has some excellent action pieces, the chapter headers are nicely detailed, and the city map is gorgeous. Almost every piece is black and white in the PDF, with one color 1/3-page illustration in the Sunken Environment chapter.

This book is *packed*. The first chapter talks to the gamemaster, discussing the legends of sunken cities, how to incorporate them, what to consider when making them a part of your game, and real world myths that might provide additional inspiration. It's a great starting chapter, because it doesn't give anything away-- a player might flip through these first 10 pages and a GM doesn't need to worry.

Chapter 2 gets into the real meat for players, providing a half-merman race, modifications for the core classes, six domains, 3 bloodlines, 2 schools of magic, and a moray in a coral tree. To top it off, there are more underwater feats than you can shake a gaff hook at.

Salvage and equipment junkies are going to love chapter 3. Brandon and the patrons went overboard here, giving us normal equipment, special materials, relics, NPC briefs, and a variety of strange oddities. Who hasn't wanted to buy a shoggoth polyp? Then the treasure chest is thrown open, and we're given a score of "lost technologies" you can work into a game, showing barnacle encrusted loot sold in the shadows of the docks.

Spells! And Items! Wow! Ordinarily, you might get what? 10 spells? Maybe 20? The same with items? Yeah, not today. Today, we dumped the whole net for you. You've got 39 spells and more than 40 items in here...I'm honestly blown away at the amount of material in this Gazetteer, even for just tossing out some one shot items you can later destroy or offer as the gear an NPC might lend. Combine that with the fourteen monsters with unique statblocks and you're literally swamped with goodies. Hodge doesn't stop there, he also gives you ways to convert monsters in the Bestiary to undersea variants and a full-fledged aboleth ecology.

Finally, there's the section on sunken adventures, which discusses hazards, poisons, and considerations for heroes of various levels in this underwater environment. I like that Hodge has broken things down by level bands, taking into account what groups at different levels will worry about or have available.

Overall, this is a great book because it's so chock full of material. This has the right amount of stuff that allows you to build a long arc, slowly dolling out the weirdness, the magic, and monsters over the course of several sessions, building up to a deep-sea finale against whatever bubbling foe you desire.

What would I have liked more of? Color art-- but I know that's a limitation on a patron project. Really, a little more color art and a few sample, color maps would have put this over the top. When you combine this with the material from KQ13, and bundle it with _Shore to Sea_? Yeah, we're easily at 5 stars.

If you're looking for a definitive water-breathing, coastal mayhem supplement that's sure to put the salt in the air and the brine in your clothes, then look no further. Sunken Empires is a solid win!


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Good, but I'd consider getting the PDF over Print for the art.

4/5

This is a nice soft cover, perfect bound collection of mostly OGL and a couple 4E baddies-- each with a hearty helping of "fluff," in the form of background, lore, physiology, society, and then something specific to the monster. For the centaur this was equipment and medicine. For cloakers, it was psychology. For the maened, this was religion and the derro gave us a very cool set of incantations to play with later. The text is decently edited, and reads well enough that you forget this is a book with over a half dozen contributors, rather than the work of one author.

Then there's all that delicious crunch to go along with it. We get feats, crafts, poisons, and of course, with every entry, a fleshed out stat block of an example that puts the material through its paces. The bargest would make a good reoccuring lieutenant or low/mid-level primary villain. A great story arc could be focused on the liches and an entire campaign could be based around the phantom fungus. It's great to have all the material from nearly three years worth of magazines compiled into single book. The two new entries-- the half-giant and the retreiver are excellent additions, providing an OGL take on a closed content race, and putting an interesting spin on a monster that never quite got the proper transition from its Planescape roots.

My only complaint about this book has to do with some of the artwork. Many of the primary pieces for the entries were either in color in the original publications, or slightly smaller. Now the pieces are either too dark because the original color image was simply printed in black and white, or slightly pixellated. Both are frustrating, because I know the art looks good on the PDFs, and probably in the PDF of this book, but it's not done justice in the printed book. I know there are difficult choices to be made for small press print runs, but I think that the images should have been converted to more legible black and white before the print run, or we should have paid the extra for the color plates in the interior.

Overall, I'd recommend Ecologies, but mostly for the OGL player and those 4E players who don't mind doing their own conversion work. It's a tough sell for the time-pressed 4E crowd with only two entries-- they might be better served purchasing KQ7&9. For the OGL crowd, it gives you some great twists on known creatures and plenty of time-saving stat blocks.

[EDIT] Having seen the price for the color interior, you could have the PDF and the print for the cost of the color Print copy. Wow! Something to consider! Link to color print is in the thread.


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KQ9 seems to hit its stride, though there are still a few stumbles.

4/5

This issue has the historic, final interview with Dave Arneson. For that alone it should not be missed. His contribution to the hobby can’t be overstated. It provides insights towards his feelings about the very nature of roleplaying games and antecdotes from Greenwood, Forbeck, and Lauder serve as fine commentary.

The solid cover art suffers a bit from the text splatter, & see one of those stumbles before even cracking a page. An article change seems to have escaped layout, leaving the Warlock-themed teaser orphaned.

The article split is 50/25/25. Half of the material is for OGL, a quarter for 4E, and a quarter is system independent. Truthfully, three of the OGL articles would require little effort for conversions to 4E or Pathfinder. This seems like a good mix, & helps solidify KQ’s position as a gaming magazine, rather than an OGL or 4E publication.

The OGL material is a solid combination of flavor&crunch. I especially like the bard article, chock full of feats, spells, and alternate class options. The bandit lair comes in a second, and fans of socially-focused games will enjoy the Courtiers article, but it’s really useful to those adding a bit of social interaction. I wonder how much tabletime a CR24 Bat-god avatar gets.

The 4E material follows a similar mechanics-and-inspiration vein, detailing two races for play; the Maedar also has conversion notes for the Pathfinder Beta system and the Kitsune received an online OGL treatment. Purely 4E, the Chasing the Grave article doesn’t skimp on the worldbuilding, giving a couple of storyseeds for inspiring dark, urban 4dventure.

A couple of editing issues are the result of trying to use of out-of-house typesetting, & kinks aren’t all worked out. The art maintains a top-notch caliber, the contributor list continues to boast veterans like Grubb, Cook, & Pett, while giving newer voices a shot. I’m happy to keep up with KQ as it enters its third year; it seems to be maturing fantastically.


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Into Antiquity...

5/5

While this book isn't essential for your saga, you'll find it has some fantastic story seeds and a method for integration into Hermetic Theory that beats the pants off what you get in True Lineages. But this isn't about those things.

Ancient Magic is about the forgotten secrets of Antiquity and the dim memory of Man's beginnings. This book is going to give your Hermetic magic context, as it shows the wonders lost to time, conquest, and misfortune. Most of the action is going to take you to the Roman, Theban, and Levant Tribunals, but then, that makes sense.

Read through and you'll want more, more detail, more hooks, more Ancient Magic!


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Into year three!

5/5

The cover is gorgeous, but a little busy. KQ is hitting its stride.

The glyph magic article presents a school of magic with spells running from 1-6th, with the bulk in the 2-5th range, a nice mixture.

The horror article gives a new creature type and provides lovecraftian terror that is, thankfully, not far realm inspired.

The Golem ecology article has engaging background and variant stat-block goodness that doesn’t forget real-world roots.

The Salvatore interview looks at his worldbuilding, a certain drow warrior, and the directions he’s moving in now.

The article on Medieval Medicine covers a topic usually ignored where disease is a 5th level cleric away from being a non-issue.

Ling shows how a weapon can act as a story hook, an NPC, an enemy, or a story in and of itself. Intelligent weapon stat blocks with histories makes campaign integration easier.

The barroom brawl article nicely adds mechanics, considers the tactics, & provides the insight to make memorable encounters.

The roachlings are a non-psionic alternative to the OGL dromites. The addition of a roachling god and evil rites makes for a creepy foe.

“Traps of the Mind” is about psychological warfare against dungeon delvers. Nothing prevents this article from applying to a 4E game with a few DC adjustments.

The Warlord battlecries piece adds to 4E roleplaying elements, the quotes are perfect. This article has no crunch, unusual for 4E material.

The book reviews focus on new novels, one unreleased—an indication of KQ's growing reputation.

The Flagellant embraces roleplaying potential with great crunch; the flavor of this class is outstanding for that method actor.

The Frostrift provides a “Side Trek.” The map is well rendered with good suggestions for optional monsters.

The issue closes with the Cults and Heresies of Zobeck. It has no crunch, so the material could provide for any system.

Good stuff, KQ continues not to disappoint.


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Clockwork and kobolds and treachery...oh, my!

5/5

Disclaimer note: I was a senior patron and I contributed to the Zobeck Gazetteer. Take that for what it’s worth.

Zobeck weighs in at 50 pages, subtitled “an introduction to the free city.” It has some very pretty cover art and then dives into the material—the first half covers an overview of the city’s history, its notable districts and important locations, its guilds, and its gods. Nothing is done to an extreme depth, but there is enough meat here to really get you hungry for Zobeck, and easily provide a mental image of the city with all its exotic trappings. Short summaries provide a general outline of important characters and places, permitting a GM to customize the locales as needed and a lot of adventure hooks means it’s simple to tie into an existing game. On a particular note, the full-page map of the city is gorgeous.

The second half details a new playable race, the Gearforged—more of a soul tied to a construct form, a-la Full Metal Alchemist than the living constructs of a certain lighting-rail setting, or the near-droid Cogs of OGL Steampunk—then continues to give the crunch for clockwork oriented skills, devices, and creatures. I like the artwork for the various creatures, particularly Robert Scott’s almost surreal Watchman and Weaver. Clockwork magic receives a decent share, providing the Gear Domain and 26 new spells from level 1 to 9 for arcane and divine casters

Like all of the Open Design projects, it has a variety of designer’s notes scattered through the sidebars. I always enjoy these notes for the insights they provide and possible tweaks I could utilize later. The layout and art suits the material well, with a heavy gear motif and a lot of classic artwork that helps keep the theme.

Overall, this is a product that has a lot to offer and hints at the potential of future offerings. You won’t go wrong adding this particular clockwork gem to your campaign world.


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But I might be biased...

5/5

First, I'll qualify this... I wrote the Dwarven Airships article, so I'm biased.

This issue comes packed with 4 new Pathfinder monsters, 4 steampunked OGL monsters, and two templates with examples befitting the name Pett.

The interview with Sandy Petersen is engaging, giving insights into CoC and a few design gems.

The article on undead creation is functional, cool, and simple. Feats and spells round out the piece, leaving you itching for a new villain.

The Centaur ecology dips into 4E territory-- but the bulk of the piece is system-neutral. An experiment for KQ, even if you ignore the stat blocks, or convert them, the piece is well done.

Next, Spells of the Gun-- a firing squad of eight spells designed to incorporate black powder. Some defend against guns, like Barrier Cloth, and others augment the gunslinger, like Deadeye. A few are high level, coming in at 7th/8th, providing limited utility in my opinion, but there are folks out there who love their epic games. :)

Then a useful piece on roleplaying a rogue. This is one for the storyteller/method actor in the group.

We continue to book reviews! Personally, I enjoy having these. As someone with limited time, being able to get a few good looks at both new and old books is nice.

The article on rogues' equipment has some interesting tidbits. They would definitely add to color and novelty of an NPC or reoccuring rival.

The Garnet Codex article is great because it could fit anywhere, a good hook for any game. It's one of those things that would have players "ooh"ing as they try to decipher it. This is one you slip into your back pocket and unleash later without a shred of guilt.

The article on disease provides the sort of seed that can drive a campaign.

Airships? I'll let you decide for yourself.

We close with the Courtesans of Zobeck. This offers a cool look at the world's oldest profession.

KQ continues to set the standard, you won't be disappointed.